Pompeii food stall gives clues to ancient Roman snacking

Archaeologists find remains of ducks, goats, fish and snails in 'thermopolium' buried in volcanic ash

Frescoes on an ancient counter discovered during excavations in Pompeii, Italy, are seen in this handout picture released December 26, 2020. Pompeii Archaeological Park/Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities and Tourism/Luigi Spina/Handout via REUTERS REUTERS  THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES

A 2,000-year-old fast-food stall unearthed from the ash of Pompeii has given researchers new clues about the snacking habits of the ancient Romans.

The ornate snack bar counter, decorated with polychrome patterns, was partially exhumed last year but archaeologists extended work on the site to reveal it in its full glory.

Pompeii was buried in a sea of boiling lava when the volcano on nearby Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD, killing between 2,000 and 15,000 people.

Archaeologists continue to make discoveries there.

The thermopolium – from the Greek "thermos" for hot and "poleo" to sell – at what was a busy intersection of Silver Wedding Street and Alley of Balconies, was the Roman era equivalent of a fast-food snack stall.

The team found duck bone fragments as well as the remains of pigs, goats, fish and snails in earthenware pots. Some of the ingredients had been cooked together like a Roman era paella.

Crushed fava beans, used to modify the taste of wine, were found at the bottom of one jar.

The counter appears to have been closed in a hurry and abandoned by its owners – perhaps as the first rumblings of the eruption were felt – Massimo Osanna, director general at the Archaeological Park of Pompeii, told Italy's Ansa news agency.

Amphorae, a water tower and a fountain were found alongside human remains, including those of a man believed to have been aged around 50 and discovered near a child's bed.

"It is possible that someone, perhaps the oldest man, stayed behind and perished during the first phase of the eruption," Mr Osanna said.

The remains of another person were also found and could be of an opportunist thief or someone fleeing the eruption who was "surprised by the burning vapours just as he had his hand on the lid of the pot that he had just opened", he said.

In the latest stage of their work, archaeologists uncovered a number of still life scenes, including depictions of animals believed to have been on the menu, notably mallard ducks and a rooster, for serving up with wine or hot beverages.

Previously unearthed was a fresco bearing an image of a Nereid nymph riding a seahorse and gladiators in combat.

"As well as bearing witness to daily life in Pompeii, the possibilities to analyse afforded by this thermopolium are exceptional because for the first time we have excavated a site in its entirety," Mr Osanna said.

The thermopolium was very popular in the Roman world. Pompeii alone had about 80.

Pompeii is Italy's second most visited site after the Colisseum in Rome and last year attracted around four million tourists.

The massive site that spreads over 44 hectares is what remains of one of the richest cities in the Roman empire. Layers of ash buried many buildings and objects in a nearly pristine state, including curled-up corpses of victims.

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